Books that have impressed me this year (so far) Part Deux

Here are five more of the most interesting books I’ve read so far in 2012.

Eon by Alison Goodman

Genre: fantasy

It’s been suggested in recent years that the use of dragons in fantasy fiction has become cliche. And I get that: if you’re going to use a fantasy staple, then it’s hard not to fall back into what others have done before. That’s why I chose not to have any dragons whatsoever in my own fantasy novel. I didn’t want to be cliche, but I also think that you can take a tired old concept and do it in a completely different way to break out of the cliche cycle: this is exactly what Goodman has managed to achieve with Eon. Instead of having a cranky old dragon dispensing cryptic advice (ala BBC’s Merlin, which I love, btw) or a dragon-lady breathing fire (ala ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which I also love) Goodman has drawn on Asian traditions to make her dragons stand out from the crowd. The result is a compelling story and a main character who you want to see succeed, despite the double disadvantage of being a girl in a society that didn’t allow women to do much, and being crippled on top of it. Eon/Eona is not a heroine who’ll make you roll your eyes by being too perfect. My only complaint: pacing. Sometimes the story moves a little slow. Partially this is because of the intense world-building that needs to be done in order to tell this kind of story.

Final grade: B+

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Genre: YA paranomal/angels

I mentioned in my previous review about how angels are the new vampires: a few years ago, everyone was writing about the vamps and the wolves and the fairies and the witches, but now we’re seeing stories about angels and mermaids and various other fantasy critters. Angels are a hot commodity right now, but like the Mercy series, Cynthia Hand has also made a successful story that stands out in the crowd of heavenly beings. In the Unearthly universe, angels and part-angels all have a sacred purpose in live: the one thing they were set on this earth to do. We see Clara Gardner recieve her purpose early in the novel, but things get complicated along the way. As humans we don’t always like the idea that destiny rules over freewill. Clara struggles against her destiny and her actions at the end of the novel will have implications for what follows in Hallowed, the sequel. My only criticism of the book was the love triangle: I’ve said that I think the love triangle is an over-done plot device and while it works for the purposes of this story, I’m hoping the two boys in question will be more interesting in the next book because at this point I’m not sure which one I’m rooting for yet.

Final Grade: A-

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Genre: children’s fantasy/fairytale

Full disclosure: my motivation for picking this one up is because of Chris Colfer. I love his character on Glee and I was curious to see if he was more than just a pretty face with an amazing voice. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed: the guy can write too. And he’s only 22 and already published. He makes me feel like a slacker.

Now to be fair, I liked this one but it didn’t quite blow my mind the way some of the other books on this list did. I think part of the problem is in the pacing: there was a lot going on and there wasn’t always room to breathe between adventures. The characterization wasn’t always consistent, but there’s so much potential here. And let’s face it: fairytale adaptations are all the rage right now. Colfer’s is one of the better ones.

Final grade: B

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Genre: YA paranormal

Have you ever had an OMG moment: you know, that moment where a book/TV show/movie throws you for a loop and you just have to stop and collect yourself? That’s how I felt reading Nevermore. If you’re a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, you have to read this book. You just have to. You also have to overlook the seemingly cliche setup with the blonde cheerleader and the goth boy because it’s true what they say: opposites attract. And in Nevermore they attract in a big way. Even though Isobel and Varen (our resident cheerleader and goth) seem like a pair of walking stereotypes, that’s actually what makes them great: they have to come from opposite worlds, otherwise it just wouldn’t work. If this was a story about two goth kids it wouldn’t be the same.

The novel is very well written and you can certainly tell that the author has done her research on Poe as well. Poe’s stories and poems have continued to have an avid following and Nevermore is the perfect homage to his work. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that I had this much trouble putting down. I’d set it aside only to pick it up again a minute later because I couldn’t stop reading. This ain’t your average star-crossed love story.

Final grade: A+

The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee

Genre: YA historical

This is the third book in the series and though it’s cliche to say it, it’s also the best. (I’ve been talking about cliches a lot today, haven’t I?) For those who haven’t read the first two, The Agency series follows our protagonist Mary Quinn and her investigations as part of a top secret all-female detective agency in Victorian England. This time Mary has gone undercover in Buckingham Palace of all places to find a petty thief. Of course she gets more than she bargains for when she tangles with the prince(what a creep!), her old flame James (what a dreamboat), her employers (turns out not all is well within the Agency itself), her father (OMG) and (spoiler alert!) Queen Victoria herself! Fans of the series will appreciate how Lee resolves a few storylines that have been kicking around since the first book (A Spy in the House) but also leaves plenty to keep them interested for the fourth and final book. And on a more personal level, it’s nice to have a biracial heroine for a change. There aren’t nearly enough of them in YA.

Final grade: A+

 

This year’s top reads (so far) part 1

I read a lot of books in a year. Last year I did 54 and this year I’ve already read 42, so I’m well on the way to breaking my previous record. I’ve narrowed down that list of 42 to the top ten books I was most impressed by. I don’t like to write bad reviews because I’m a writer too: I know how hard it can be to create something. (For future reference, I’ll not bother writing reviews about books that I hated.)

Here are the first five books that have impressed me this year – so far and in no particular order. (Please note: not all of these books were published in 2012. I just happened to be reading them in 2012.)

Mercy by Rebecca Lim

Genre: YA supernatural/angels

Angels and fallen angels are a major subset of the young adult realm right now. Mercy was the first book of this type that I’ve read: I picked it up initially because the author and I share the same first name (name twins!) but it’s more than that – the book is just plain inventive. The title character, Mercy, is an angel who involuntarily “soul-jacks” people’s lives temporarily: she lives through them for a short time before moving on to the next host. All the while she only gets hints of who she really is, a struggle balanced with Mercy’s attempts at making the lives of those she inhabits a better place. With a huge host of angel books available right now, Mercy is a standout for its ongoing mystery (who is Mercy and why was she exiled in the first place?) and its fast-paced plot.

Final grade: A-

 

– Once Every Never by Lesley Livingston

Genre: YA – historical, adventure

Full disclosure: I resisted this book for a long time before reading it. You might ask why, since I read and loved two of her other novels, Wondrous Strange and Darklight, so I’ll be completely honest: I read the back of the book in the store and rolled by eyes over the main character’s name. This poor girl’s parents were symphony musicians who named their daughter Clarinet (ouch.) But after picking it up and putting it back a few times, I took the plunge and finally bought a copy. And pretty soon I didn’t care what the heronine’s name was. What the back of the book doesn’t tell you is that the plot also involves the legendary warrior queen Boudicca. How awesome is that? Clarinet’s name is mercifully reduced to Clare and oh yeah, there’s also time travel involved. Had I known there was time travel, I’d have picked the book up right away. Add Boudicca to the mix and you’ve got yourself a winning combination. I’ll never judge a heroine by her name again.

Final grade: A+

 

Dark Mirror by MJ Putney

Genre: YA historical, magic

I picked this one up because I was drawn to the time period: early 19th century. I majored in English at University and I was always drawn to 19th century writers. So when I found Dark Mirror I was excited because it was my favourite time period and the main character had magic. I’ve also got magical characters in my writing and I love seeing how other authors handle magic. In the world of Dark Mirror, magic has always existed but it is frowned upon within the upper classes: upper class mages are sent to magical reform school (think Hex Hall meets Jane Austen) where they are trained to control and eventually denounce their powers. But our heroine Tory Mansfield joins up with a group of students who have elected to use their powers for good – and this young lady has some serious power. Around the middle of the book, things took a rather interesting turn: time travel again! Maybe once everyone is done writing about angels, we’ll be seeing a barrage of time travelling novels? (A girl can dream, right?)

Final grade: A

 

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Genre: YA

Something without angels, mages or time travel (for a change): enter the world of high class thievery with Heist Society. It’s like The Italian Job with a bunch of teenagers. And the title is genius. I’m not sure what genre you’d call this, so I’m putting it udner the catch-all of Young Adult for now. In this book we see our protagonist Katarina Bishop fall back into the family business of robbery when she has to save her dad from being framed for a major heist that he didn’t commit. What follows is a clever, fast-paced story that never slows down and always holds the reader’s interest. My only complaint? It wasn’t long enough! Good thing there’s sequels. This one’s got “make me into a movie” written all over it.

Final grade: B+

 

Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins

Genre: YA supernatural/paranormal, magic

So rarely is a sequel in a trilogy the best of the three. Often a sequel is merely a stepping stone between a cracking debut and an epic conclusion. But this is not the case for the second book in the Hex Hall trilogy. Demonglass is one of those rare sequels that is at least as good as, if not better than, its predecessor. We get to see a lot more of Sophie Mercer’s magical world in Demonglass, including the long-awaited introduction of her father James (a character only hinted at in the first book.) As a result, we learn more about Sophie’s origins and the nature of her power. We also get to see Cal become a more important character in this book (though I was rooting for him in the first book myself.) As a result, we start to see the beginnings of a love triangle that I’m sure we’ll see picked up on in Spell Bound (book three.) I’m really tired of love triangles, but at least the two boys in this one, Cal and Archer, are differentiated enough from each other to keep things interesting.

Final grade: A-

Booklover problems

So I have a problem: I can’t walk past a bookstore without going in. And when I go in, I end up buying stuff. Then I end up with more books than I’ll even have time to read. But sometimes you can’t say no: like when bargain books are marked down even further (score!) Or when an author you like has a new book out (score!) Or you have a 15% off coupon (score again!)

So recently I’ve bought:

– An anthology of works by Hans Christian Andersen

– Starling by Lesley Livingston

– The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

– Libyrinth by Pearl North

– Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Of course it might take me awhile to read all of these: I’m still working my way through the third book in the Hex Hall series.

 

 

Apparently a book sale is happening

This weekend in my city. Major discounts on hard covers and paperbacks! This is the sort of thing I live for. The only thing more fun than reading books is buying them. I definitely have a problem with buying too many books. I can’t walk past a bookstore without going in, and if I go in, 9 times out of 10 I have to buy something. It’s my only weakness. And if the prices are marked down then all bets are off.Don’t get me started on fancy book covers! Not judging a book by its cover is nice in theory, but come on: everyone does it. I’m hoping this isn’t all too good to be true: like it’ll only be stuff that’s from the reject bin of bad books that no one wanted to buy. But I guess we’ll see. Should be fun either way.

Oh hai.

As you might have guessed, this blog is about a girl named Becky who loves books. Okay, so it’s not the most original title, but I needed to decide on something and not keep putting off starting a blog because I couldn’t think of a snappy title. So here it is: Becky the Book Lover.

I read a lot but I’m also a writer. I’ve already finished one novel and am working on the sequel right now while I search for a literary agent. Maybe you’ll be seeing me in print some day!

But for now, I want to write about the thing I love most: books! I’m always reading at least one. I’ve been reading a lot of YA in the last year because that’s the age group that I’m writing for. I might also blog about whatever TV shows I’m watching, what music I’m listening to and all that other good stuff. :]